Full marks have to go to BMW for coming up with an experience that really captures the imagination at CES 2019. Vital to your visit in the Silver Lot outside the Convention Centre is to spend a bit of time taking a look at the BMW Vision iNext, which is a concept car that is a little bit different. Actually, make that a lot different. It’s good on the eyes from the outside, but once the double doors open up the interior is the thing that really grabs you.
Holger Hampf, President of Designworks, the BMW Group-owned global design agency is on hand to explain the wild thinking behind what inspired the creation. He comes from a non-automotive background and that means he and his team have come up with something radially different to a traditional car interior. Think boutique hotel, or home away from home and you get the idea.
It’s basically a space that can be tailored to be just like your living room. There’s unconventional seating for starters, with two irregularly shaped seats in the front and a very loopy rear seat-cum-sofa thing going on in the back. Between those front seats there’s a wooden coffee table and what appears to be Parquet flooring in the footwell. The choice of materials is far removed from the sumptuous leather that you’d normally expect from BMW, but it kinda works.
And there’s more wacky stuff too, with a colour scheme that extends from the exterior gradient paint finish through to soft tones that suggest a homely relaxing feel. During our guided tour the BMW staff showed off how it plans to project images and information on the windscreen and other interior surfaces using high-resolution mini projectors.
Topping it all of is a the seat covering, which comes complete with a virtual surface. As you sit there inside your living room on wheels it’s possible to, for example, write a music note symbol on the covering with your finger. That fires up one of your favourite tunes, which you can then make louder or quieter using a circular motion with your preferred digit. It’s a bit mad, but it’s great too.
BMW has really joined up the dots when it comes to telling people the story of this car. Outside, there’s a chance to get in and enjoy the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, which is just that. This is a very smart, very intuitive voice activated service inside the car that not only works very well, but is also able to tailor itself to your every whim. Too hot, too cold, bored, lost… whatever state you’re in this virtual assistant is there to help.
The German carmaker has done a cracking job with this, but that’s merely a prelude to the virtual reality experience that takes you on a virtual journey of discovery next. You start off in a room deep inside the BMW Pavilion at CES, let’s call it your office, where you can talk to a very large screen that’s showing off your packed daily diary. You quickly rearrange appointments in your hectic schedule and then head off home with the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant taking the weight off your shoulders.
Stage two is where you don a virtual reality headset and get taken down in a lift, onto the street where your virtual BMW Vision iNext pulls up. You hop in and, after a quick look around the fun and funky interior, you drive off down the road. Admittedly this virtual vehicle is a bit of a handful to steer – it’s actually all over the shop – which is why it tends to function better when you’re told to take your hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals, sit back and watch a ball game instead.
Oh, before that there’s the chance to order some chips so you can pig out on your real sofa when you get with the virtual edition in the Vision iNext. You don’t quite escape work either as there’s a virtual conference call with three colleagues who appear on a mixed reality screen right in front of you. Along the way there’s also a ring on your video doorbell at home, and the smart device shows three people, presumably your friends, at the door asking to be let in.
Meanwhile, the car is driving itself down the highway as day turns to night and, eventually, you arrive back home. The VR headset comes off and you’re in a real version of the living room, complete with a very large bag of Tostitos, which you can polish off while catching the highlights of the game. The demo is a lot of fun and pretty convincing too, if a little bit surreal. It’s a wild concept, but BMW reckons it could have a variation on the theme ready for around 2025.